The future of work is…quieter?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The 2020 pandemic has office designers dreaming up healthier, greener offices—don’t let them forget noise.

This article in NPR appeared in September as people were sending their kids to schools and dreaming of going back to work. While all of those office buildings have stood empty for many months, the people who design, build, and operate office buildings have been dreaming too about how to make offices healthier places to work: windows that open to let in fresh air, HVAC systems with good air filtration built into them, “green” plant-walls, touchless elevators and doors, doorless bathroom entries, and lots of hand-washing stations.

But nobody mentioned quiet and privacy–about wanting places where you can concentrate and work without disruption. This is not a new problem. And it certainly needs to be factored into anybody’s “office of the future” if the goal is to reduce unnecessary stress and increase the ability of “knowledge-workers” to do the thought-work they’re being paid for. I wrote about this with my health acoustics colleague Bill Cavanaugh for the U.S. General Services Administration a while back.

So if you’re dreaming of what kind of ideal working conditions you’d like to have when the world goes back to work in 2021, don’t forget that quiet and the sounds of nature are as important to your mental health and your motivation to work as windows and greenery and hand sanitizer stations!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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